Is there anything more delicious than being pleasantly surprised by a situation or circumstance? The thrill of having your assumptions dashed away, like a dandelion when a puff of wind flutters by? My class at Audiah Memorial High School has been nothing but a series of lessons in the foolishness of placing stock in pre-conceived notions, and the spark of beauty that lies in a true surprise. Compared to the other classes that I teach here in Hyderabad, the kids at Audiah are outliers: they are mostly boys, where I otherwise only deal with girls. They are mostly Telugu-medium, while my other students are quite proficient in English. The children at Audiah are rowdy: students openly beat each other in the classroom, mini versions of Pacquiao and Mayweather. Children at my other schools appear to be oblivious to the outcome of a great right-hook. Thus, my earliest dealings with the nineteen students at Audiah were a veritable mixed-bag. They had little to no idea what the words that I was spouting meant: English was a foreign language in every sense of the statement. Homework was assigned, and then summarily dismissed by the students. Unlike the other schools I have been working in, I did not have proper teacher assistants that were able to help me on a day-to-day basis. I felt disrespected and alone. The hours I was spending on cultivating “perfect” lesson plans were for naught, and I felt as if I was failing those that needed failure the least: my students.
Then came a breakthrough, and it arrived accidentally, as most great things are wont to do. While frustrated at my lack of ability to convey the concept of a “point of view” I slipped in a phrase or two in Telugu. The kids were shocked at my hidden linguistic abilities, yet they gobbled up the information that I was presenting. The photography scavenger hunt that we were working on was a breeze, and resulted in some great shots. When friends and family ask about my experience so far with The Modern Story, they assume that most of my work is in teaching English. Strengthening existing language skills is certainly part of my job, but the focus is on digital skills and instilling creative confidence. By simply switching the mode in which information was being presented, students that I had deemed “difficult to work with” were transformed. My notions were dashed away in a flurry of surprisingly beautiful and engaging content.
The next great surprise came whilst we were deep in the bowels of producing our first photo story. The kids settled upon three topics: ‘Maths in Daily Life’, ‘What is Friendship?’, and ‘Welcome to Audiah’ (a love letter to their school). This entailed three separate production teams, all simultaneously storyboarding, location scouting, taking pictures, and editing final products. As mentioned above, we do not have teachers assistants at Audiah – the teachers are too busy with their own curriculum to undertake TMS projects. Thus, the decision to undertake three photo stories meant that I, as a facilitator, would have to rotate my assistance between the groups, and that at any given time two groups would be dealing with production on their own. I was initially terrified at this prospect, as previous projects had needed to be micromanaged, for the sake of creative integrity and the equipments own well-being. However, as this blog post’s title indicates, I was about to be surprised yet again. All three groups were exemplary in terms of efficiency. After returning with the ‘Maths’ team from photographing a local shop, I was thrilled with surprise at the photos that the ‘Friendship’ group had captured. The rowdiness that was once so prevalent in class had vanished. Students were patient with each other whilst editing their stories in iMovie. Fighting over notebooks and pencils had been replaced by helping one another detach audio or insert subtitles. The final results can be viewed below: the students hope you enjoy watching them as much as they enjoyed making them. My first two months at Audiah have been a lesson in surprises, and I cannot wait to see what else these kids have in store. Now it’s on to the first video projects! Cheers!